kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
4th edition D&D has always had a flavor problem, and this is never more clear then when reading the power descriptions. This is true even though each power has a colorful name and a short bit of flavor text. Quick: Can you name all of your PC's powers? I've been playing a rogue in [livejournal.com profile] kokoinai's campaign since 4th edition came out, and gotten to 16th level, but I could only name half of his exploits from memory, let alone say what each of them did.

Part of the problem, no doubt, is that rogue exploits -- unlike, say, wizard spells -- are all going to sound a bit alike. There are only so many ways to describe one guy stabbing someone else. So you get abilities like "Crimson Edge," whose name tells you nothing at all, so its no surprise I couldn't tell you what it does.

This may get to the core of the issue: There are just too many attack powers, all doing more or less the same things. In some future edition of D&D there should be far fewer of them, perhaps only one new power every 5 levels instead of every 2-3. If you want more variety for spellcasters you can expand the size of the spellbook (from 2-3 spells to 4-5), or give them powers from their pact, totem, guild or deity.

Alternatively characters can get powers as frequently as they do today, but only up to low Paragon tier. After that they can Enhance existing powers: Add extra dice of damage; push, pull or slide targets farther; add more conditions to the effects. After all, you can find many powers -- such as "Deep Cut" and "Biting Assault" for rogues -- that do more-or-less the same thing, only one is better than the other. Instead you could have a single power ("Deep Cut") and an Enhanced version at later levels ("Enhanced [Level 25]: Increase damage to 3[W], and target is weakened on hit (save ends)"). It would save space and make all of the powers easier to remember.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
I don't know whether to trust these sales rankings, which claim that Pathfinder and D&D are matched in sales, but they must be sobering for WotC nonetheless. I suspect (with little real evidence) that it's due to 4e's lack of support. I regularly glance at ENworld's newsfeed, and it always looks as if Pathfinder has more stuff coming out. It may be amateur stuff, it may be low quality, but apparently it's enough to get folks to buy their products.

Meanwhile, part of me wants to buy the World of Warcraft expansion, which is coming out soon. (Apparently the 4.0 rules patch was just released.) Should I endanger my relationship to see Azeroth again? Can I trust myself to play long enough to say hello to old guildmates, to explore the new zones, and then quickly return to a blissful WoW-less retirement? My better angels are answering "no" to both questions.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
As I've said many times, I've always been more interested in myth and legend than in contemporary fantasy, and this was true when I discovered D&D as a kid. So the book that most excited me was Deities and Demigods. That book was my introduction to the Cthulhu Mythos (as well as "Melnibonean" and "Newhon"), but it presented the material out of its original context. The Erol Otus artwork suggested, as you would expect with a D&D supplement, that Lovecraft's stories took place in a standard Medieval setting with castles and princesses and the rest of it. It presented the mind-boggling prospect of a Cleric of Cthulhu, armed with mace, shield and chainmail, marching into the dragon's lair with a standard D&D party, no different from any other evil cleric except that he can't say his god's name and he sacrifices virgins in his off-hours.

Lately I've been reading short stories of Clark Ashton Smith and CL Moore, part of my research into pulp heroic fantasy. The odd thing is, their "Medieval romances" resemble that hypothetical D&D pretty well. The monsters are Lovecraftian, with little resemblance to creatures of myth or legend, and pagan priests are presented as sinister and bloody-minded. As I recall this was also the case with the Conan stories I read as a teenager. I expected this from Smith, a horror specialist who (like Howard) was a frequent Lovecraft correspondent, but I was surprised to find it in CL Moore's Jilel of Joiry stories.

I don't know where this taste for tentacled blobs comes from (Hodgson? Merritt? Burroughs?), but it's interesting to see a very different approach from Tolkien when it came to the forces of darkness and evil. Ideally, I'd say, you should follow one or the other if you want a consistent atmosphere.

Kavia Gods

Jul. 8th, 2010 11:54 am
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
For those interested, I reposted my pics of the gods in [livejournal.com profile] bigscary's old D&D campaign, Kavia. (Sadly, three of the originals seem to be missing.)
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
In the early 80s I loved RuneQuest, like many aspiring RPG writers, for its delightful mechanical consistency and elegance of design. One thing I didn't like, however, was its "Battle Magic" system, at least in the first two editions. (Battle Magic was equivalent to Arcane in 3e D&D.) It wasn't how spells worked, in play, that bothered me, but how you learned them: You went to a local cult, gave them money, and *bang!* you could cast spells. I thought it killed the flavor of the game, to have magic taught by equivalents of the New School, and was happy when Avalon Hill changed this in 3rd edition.

Fast forward twenty-something years to 4th edition D&D. As I've said before, I liked how Rituals were distinguished from other spells (continuing the 3e trend), but after a bit of play I was dissatisfied. There are a number of reasons, but one is that it brought back Ye Olde Magick Market: You marched over to the Discovery Institute, paid them cash, and walked out knowing a nice new ritual.

[livejournal.com profile] kokoinai pointed out that this market already existed in 3rd edition, which is true (and it existed in 2nd as well, in a different form). In those days, though, it was limited to wizards (Bards in 2e). I can accept the "spell market" for wizards -- they need to buy all those books, after all -- but extending it to clerics, shamans, and so forth seems wrong to me. What would be the alternatives?

One would be to simply give the latter classes their rituals for free, but that might put them at an advantage, money-wise. A solution -- for divine casters, at least -- may be to charge them a tithe, expressed perhaps as a fixed fee per level, and then give them rituals (and perhaps other benefits) for free. I would have no problem doing the same for psionic casters (since I identify them with Eastern ascetic traditions) but I'm not sure how to charge primal classes. Demanding a tithe from a shaman seems weird -- who would they pay? -- but there's no reason for them to have extra money in their pouches. Expect them to spend time "communing with the spirits," perhaps, on the time-is-money principle? I don't know, but I'd welcome suggestions.

Update: I just noticed that shamans don't get the Ritual Caster feat. Replace "shaman" with "druid" above, I guess.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
Five years ago I posted ideas for personality stats in D&D. After leafing through Pendragon last night, I thought I'd return to the subject.

I would never want die rolls to compel PCs to do one thing or another; fundamental decisions should always be left up to the player. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental divide between players and their characters, related to sensation. You don't see what your PC sees, you can't feel the aching in his joints, the hunger in his belly, or the pain of a blade piercing his skin. This is necessary to a certain extent: Most of us wouldn't go adventuring if we had to suffer as much as our PCs; heroism is much easier when you're guaranteed physical comfort. Still, we may want to know when our characters are suffering, and a personality stat system could help with that.

I chose three traits -- Lust, Pride and Sloth -- in the original article. Trait names were taken from the Seven Deadly Sins (obviously), but I chose those that represented fundamental human drives and desires. I combined Gluttony and Sloth together because, in a fantasy game context, I thought they could be satiated at the same time.

In 4e terms, each trait is generated like a standard ability score, as shown in the Player's Handbook. Each trait starts at 10, and you spend 11 points between them; alternatively assign an array of 10, 12, 16; or roll 4d6 for each and add up the highest three values. Traits increase as the character levels up; add 1 to each at 4th, 8th, 14th, 18th, 24th and 28th level, and 3 to each at 11th and 21st level.

Every time the character levels, the player must make three attack rolls against his Will defense, one for each of the three personality traits. These rolls can be skipped if the character has satiated the given "drive": Had pleasurable sex, received significant validation, or spent time in rest and comfort. Success in attack roll means the character is distracted and demoralized. What this means in game terms is, well ... something that needs to be determined. Watch this space, I guess.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
Players Handbook 3 is coming out in a few weeks, and I'm not too thrilled with some of the new classes, the Ardent and the Battlemind in particular. It has nothing to do with the mechanics; I haven't played them, but I like the basics of psionics in 4E (using points to "augment" at-will powers was an inspired idea), and nothing seems inherently game-breaking.

My issue isn't with the mechanics, but with the flavor ... or the lack thereof. One of the benefits of classes is that they have clear cultural referents, evoking characters from history, fiction or legend. Think of Paladins and Lancelot comes to mind. Barbarians? Conan. Wizards? Gandalf. Other classes at least represent real groups of people, like clerics, shamans, assassins (ninja!!!!!) and so forth.

Psionics were always exceptional in this regard, since their referents are from comics or science fiction (Professor X, Jedi Knights, guys blowing up heads in Scanners). I was intrigued, therefore, when designers turned the Monk into a psionic class. Aha! I thought. Since Shaolin monks were Buddhists, maybe the psionic classes would be drawn from Eastern ascetic traditions? I remember one of the old Samurai classes, in Dragon magazine, acquired psionics at high levels; it made sense, reflecting Zen mental discipline. Make the Monk a psionic striker, the Samurai a psionic defender, the Guru a psionic leader...

Instead we get the Battlemind. The name indicates the power source (psionic) and the role (defender), nothing more. Picture a Battlemind outside of combat. What does he look like? Where does he come from? What's his social status? You can answer these questions with the core D&D classes. Not with the Battlemind. These new classes may have way kewl powers, but I don't think they'll add much to the game.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
(I know most of you don't like 4E [or don't play RPGs], but I'll post this anyway for feedback purposes.)

Once the PCs reach Paragon level, and the fate of kingdoms rests in their sweaty little hands, they may have no choice but to join mass battles. Most armies will be made up largely of minions -- there's no way the average grunt will be a Paragon-level creature -- and combat between minions should be extremely simple. So simple, in fact, that the 4E combat rules could be used almost directly for large-scale warfare. Read more... )
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
4th edition D&D uses two kinds of health measures -- hit points and healing surges -- yet only one of them directly effects a character's condition. Healing surges determine receptiveness to healing, that's true, but unless someone's around to heal you -- or you roll a 20 on a death saving throw -- it won't make any difference, you'll die just the same.

Here's an alternative system. Read more... )

I admit this is very rough and would welcome comments and criticism.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
Once I get a "project" in my head it's hard to stop working on it. (It must be genetic. My father is always tinkering with something, although it's usually more useful, like a garden or a patio...) So I'm still thinking about what an updated d20 Modern might look like, and here's my current outline:Details hidden from the non-d20 dweebs )

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